Report finds MPD erred

A recent Metropolitan Police Department investigation found that seven students suing the city for being arrested at a protest last year were wrongfully detained.

The disclosure, which came after a federal judge hearing the students’ suit ordered the release of the internal police investigation two weeks ago, concluded that the seven students were among 400 protesters who were wrongfully arrested at a September 2002 protest in Pershing Park.

The demonstrators were protesting the policies of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, which were holding their biannual meeting a few blocks from the park. While the report upheld the arrest of several protesters who were destroying property, it found that the majority of people should not have been put in handcuffs.

Jonathan Turley, a GW law professor who is representing the students, said the investigation affirms the students’ claim that they were unlawfully arrested by MPD.

“We could not be more confident about the outcome of the case,” Turley said.

“The police report is extensively supportive of the account given by the students and leaves little doubt about the unlawful conduct of the police,” he added.

Turley said the students are asking the U.S. District Court to award them monetary compensation for being arrested, expunge their arrest records and establish “clear standards” for detaining protesters at future demonstrations. A trial date has not been set as preliminary hearings continue.

While declining to comment on the case’s specifics, Peter Lavallee, spokesman for the D.C. Corporation Counsel, which represents the District in court, said the investigation would play a role in the court’s decision.

“It’s going to be relevant to the determination of the case … but it’s premature for me to comment on that,” he said.

Three of the students involved in the suit were legal observers of the demonstrations for the National Lawyers Guild, while the other four were photographers for The Hatchet.

Senior Chris Zarconi, a former Hatchet assistant photo editor who was arrested while taking pictures of the protest, said the police surrounded the area and arrested almost everyone, regardless of credentials they presented. He said the law students were wearing clothing identifying themselves as legal observers, and the photographers prominently displayed their press credentials.

“Clearly credentialed press who were covering the protest should not have been arrested, but some people were clearly in violation of the law and deserved to be arrested,” said Tony Bullok, director of communications for D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams.

MPD also conceded that it failed to order protesters to leave the park before making arrests, even though the demonstrators lacked a permit. According to the report, police can give an order to disperse if there is a demonstration in an area with no permit, but the MPD Mass Demonstration Handbook mandates that at least two documented warnings must be made prior to making arrests.

Those arrested were loaded onto a bus and taken to MPD’s training center in Southwest D.C, Zarconi said.

Zarconi said he was kept on a bus in handcuffs for nine hours before being processed and put in the center’s gymnasium. Some protesters were held in the gymnasium for 18 hours, and handcuffed wrist-to-ankle, according to the report.

Assistant Chief Peter Newsham, who ordered the arrests, told investigators that he had seen some protesters vandalizing property and decided to arrest lawbreakers in the park but gave no order for people to leave it.

“It was a situation where we were trying to do what was in the best interest of the city,” Newsham said to MPD’s internal affairs unit, according to the report.

Sgt. Joe Gentile, MPD’s public information officer, declined to comment.

“The main problem was that the police officers on the scene did not give adequate notification to the people gathered in Pershing Park,” Bullok said. “The protesters) were in violation of our law. That being said, it was determined by the internal report that people weren’t given adequate notice to disperse.”

Michael Barnett contributed to this report.

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